I’ve been off the grid for a few days after a great vacation with my girlfriend and her family. We spent Sunday afternoon at the Biltmore Mansion in Asheville, NC (an amazing place, by the way). At one point, while we were breaking for a bit, I checked Twitter to find it abuzz with news of a spectacular crash during the IndyCar finale. Over the next couple of hours, I stayed glued to my phone and Twitter through the news that Dan Wheldon had been killed in the crash.
I’m not here to try to give insight into how Wheldon’s death affected anyone in the racing industry because I’m not a part of the racing industry. What I do on this blog is write things from the point of view that I see them: the fan’s perspective. That’s what I’m going to do here.
Losing Dan Wheldon is a crushing blow to IndyCar and the racing world in general. He looked like he was ripped straight out of a magazine with his looks, he was witty when he was in front of the camera and, most importantly, he could drive the hell out of one of those indycars. He was loved by essentially everyone in the sport, as evidenced by the scene on pit road during the 5-lap salute the drivers carried out in his honor after his death.
The circumstances surrounding Wheldon’s death are as surreal as they were tragic. Consider the fact that he would not have even been in that race had it not been for that ridiculous bounty…I mean, $5 million bonus…that Randy Bernard put out there for a non-series regular to win the race. Consider the irony that Wheldon had been the lead test driver for the new IndyCar chassis set to debut next year, a chassis that includes a new configuration to cover the back tires and prevent cars from ramping over other cars….exactly the way Wheldon did Sunday. Consider the cruel twist-of-fate that Wheldon had just Sunday morning signed a contract to replace Danica Patrick at Andretti Autosport and return full-time to a competitive team in the series he had conquered in 2005.
I always said that Geoff Bodine’s Truck series crash at Daytona is the worst thing I’ve ever seen in racing, but this crash trumped that ten-fold. Whether IndyCar should have been racing at such a high-speed, high-banked track as Vegas is up for debate, but now is not the time. The accident, the circumstances, the result, there is no blame to be placed. The racing world is mourning the loss of one of it’s own, and one of the greatest to ever sit in an Indycar.
As race fans, we attach ourselves to these drivers and give them our unwavering devotion. Just as drivers assume the risk involved with racing, we fans do the same. We know and accept that, at any moment, our favorite driver could be the one in Wheldon’s shoes this past Sunday. But it doesn’t make it any less painful, for his family or those of us who cheered for him.
I don’t claim to be a diehard Indycar fan, but I would say my interest falls somewhere above “passing” and below “hardcore.” I picked Dan Wheldon as my favorite driver back in 2004, mainly because he was British (which I thought was cool) and he was consistently running up front. Anytime I caught an Indycar race, I was pulling for Dan.
I never understood why he had so much trouble finding a ride this season. Now I think it’s poetic that he spent the year working out the kinks of the new car that will hopefully bring entertainment to Indycar fans for years to come. I think that will become a big part of his legacy, just as his two Indy 500 wins and his 2005 championship are.
So Sunday was an especially sad day for me, the same way it was an especially sad day for all of auto racing. We lost a great champion, but he will never be forgotten…